By Jeff Linkous
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
TRENTON, NJ (AP) The starting date for a now year-old law that would allow quicker approval of some construction projects has been delayed again.
Last fall, then-Gov. James E. McGreevey signed an executive order that put the law — dubbed the “fast track” law by critics and “smart growth” law by its supporters — on hold.
On July 12, acting Gov. Richard J. Codey, a co-sponsor of the law, signed an order extending that delay until portions that conflict with federal regulations can be sorted out.
Among those are automatic approval of permits if state environmental regulators fail to act within 45 days and the limiting of public comment.
Codey had already named an overseer to handle the permits but also had left the door open to revising the statute.
“Today, Governor Codey stopped fast track in its tracks. Codey stood up to special interests and did what’s right for the people of New Jersey,” said Jeff Tittel of the state’s chapter of the Sierra Club.
Saying it posed a danger to the environment, Tittel’s organization and others had threatened to sue if the law took effect.
Doug Fenichel, a spokesman of K. Hovnanian Homes of Edison, the state’s largest home builder, said his company had hoped the law would take effect. He disputed critics’ assertions that it would compromise environmental standards.
“All it does is stop the state from using the permit process as a weapon,” Fenichel said. “We need to be figure out where people can live and provide them with homes and solve the acute housing shortage in New Jersey and protect the state’s economy.”
The law, passed in three days last summer, was intended to place checks on development by steering it to designated growth areas, those considered environmentally safe or blighted neighborhoods ripe for redevelopment.
Environmental groups claimed it would lead to the loss of more open space and worsen pollution in heavily developed areas.
They also argued it was payback to builders for development restrictions placed on the Highlands region in the northwest part of the state last year.
The Highlands region supplies drinking water for 4.5 million people and provides recreation for nearly 25 million people from New Jersey and three other states who live within an hour’s drive.
Several state lawmakers and U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine, the Democratic nominee in this year’s gubernatorial race, have called for the fast-track law to be repealed. Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Forrester believes the law was passed in haste and should be revisited.
“Kudos to the governor and Senator Corzine and all legislators who have called for its repeal or an extension of the moratorium until the Legislature can fix this,” said David Pringle, of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.
Sen. Stephen Sweeney, the lead sponsor of the law, said a remedy was in the works before McGreevey imposed the first delay in November. Those efforts had resumed over the past few months, said Sweeney, who added Codey’s order was disappointing.
“It puts me in a holding pattern again. I feel like my legs have been cut out from under me,” he said.